As disciples of Jesus, our aim is to become more like him, and to learn to do the things he did in the way he did them. As with any other apprenticeship, our Christian discipleship necessarily involves spending time with the Master, getting to know him better, observing his ways and learning from his feedback on our efforts. Within this close working relationship, our characters are formed, such that we gradually become more like him, and so find it easier to do the things he did in the way he did them. That's the plan!

The problem is that there are so many other influences on our lives. Much of the time, we're unaware of them; they just seem part of normal life. We don't stop to consider whether they're positive or negative "they're just `there'!

Within our church family, we had been feeling challenged by the resilience shown by several of our number who were going through prolonged treatment for cancer. Although they all admitted to having times when they struggled, it was obvious to the rest of us that, despite their foundations being tested by the life-quake of serious ill-health followed by unpleasant therapy, they were still standing. It seemed a particularly good time to bring teaching on spiritual formation, and these resources are my contribution to what followed. They were used over a period of four months, rather than one after the other. This allowed time for personal and group reflection and application between the segments without losing momentum. As with any growth-related project, hurrying through doesn't necessarily have the desired effect!

The teaching and resources were designed for use at a particular time, in particular church community in which the term `spiritual formation' was unfamiliar. An additional consideration was that Sunday sermons are delivered to two very different congregations, which between them include adults of all ages and at all stages of faith or none. Likewise, the home groups vary tremendously, hence, the study material had to be written so that it could be enjoyable and accessible for beginners, while still including challenges for more mature believers.

In 2011, my third book Shaping the Heart: Reflections on Spiritual Formation and Fruitfulness was published. Since then, it has been used with enthusiasm by several of our home groups. It is recommended reading for all who - with or without a group - would like to reflect further on the subject. This website material was the starting point for the book; some of it is included in Shaping the Heart, but much of it is not.

Please note that there is a strong sense of progression in what follows. So, while it is entirely appropriate to select those sections which meet your own needs, or those of your church community, you will find it helpful to take a quick look at each of the items in turn, to obtain an overview.

  • Sermon 1 - THE OBEDIENCE OF MARY (Luke 1:26-38)
    How was Mary prepared for the momentous day when she needed to be ready to respond in obedience to God? This sermon pre-dates the series relating to Spiritual Formation, but includes material of relevance to it, as does Oasis 2007 (from the Church Leadership magazine section).
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Study Notes 1 - This is my Song
    Popular songs from our childhood to the present day offer a window on influences which may have been shaping us. From one of David's psalms and Mary's song, what may we learn about their views of "the way the world is"?
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Sermon 2 - BEING FORMED - Part 1 (Daniel 3:1-18)
    How have we been formed as we've grown up? And how may we contribute positively to the character building of the children with whom we have contact, so that they will be able to stand up under pressure?
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Study Notes 2 - My Hero
    Who have been our heroes and heroines? Gideon is listed among the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11), but he showed little promise to start with! We can learn from the way God worked with him to develop his faith and trust, and from the character of Jesus, upon whom we are urged to fix our eyes.
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Sheet for personal reflection
    We are unaware of most of the influences shaping us day by day. Used prayerfully, the question, "Who or what is shaping the way I think and live?" can form part of our dialogue with God, and show us what he might be wanting to encourage - or asking us to walk away from.
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Sermon 3 - BEING FORMED - Part 2 (Colossians 3:1-17)
    We don't have to take responsibility for the way we were shaped as children, but we most definitely do have to take responsibility for the choices we're making today. As followers of Jesus, we're to show the Christ-family likeness. How may we cooperate with God as he seeks to transform us?
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]

  • Study Notes 3 - Paul's letter to the Philippians (4 sessions)
    Paul wasn't allowing his circumstances to blind him to the goodness and faithfulness of God. He urged the Philippians to allow Christ's character to influence them, and to encourage one another in pressing on. Love, peace and contentment come as the character of Christ is formed in us - we can't pray for them to arrive as selected options on a take-away menu! What changes does your group plan to make, in order to make it more effective in encouraging everyone to become more like Jesus?
    [RTF Format] | [PDF Format]